Since we talked last, you haven't really
added that many new artists to your roster. What are the prerequisites
to becoming a Saddle Creek band?
Robb Nansel: I don't know. We've talked about that a lot
lately. The prerequisite used to be that the band had to be friends
with us. I think everyone's gotten comfortable with the idea of
expanding beyond that and putting out records from bands outside
the circle. But we don't have an active A&R department, so no
one is out seeking talent. We haven't come across anything, and
we don't have time to devote to it.
Jason Kulbel: The bands themselves have always been our
A&R department, through touring and meeting other bands on the
road. That model doesn't work anymore because the bands are choosing
who they're touring with now. Conor knows everyone that comes on
the road with him.
So how will you find new talent?
Nansel: The best source is friends at other labels who have
passed on a recording that didn't fit for them. You listen to it
over and over again and try to see what they saw in it in the first
place. Other demos we listen to once and throw away.
Kulbel: There are a lot of bands around like Ladyfinger,
Neva Dinova and Criteria. I guess we don't feel like we have to
put out all the local bands' CDs. There's room for bands to be on
other labels, and for other labels to start up. I like Ladyfinger
and going to Criteria shows, we just don't put out their records.
We do have a light release schedule this year, but at the same
time pretty much from late last summer until right now it's been
brutal. We don't need another band right now. It's a full load putting
out two Bright Eyes records. That said, I don't see another Bright
Eyes record coming out in 2006, maybe a b-sides collection. There
probably won't be a Cursive record, and probably not a Faint record.
We need to get some new bands.
Conor Oberst said that one of the reasons he created Team Love
Records was because of the glacial pace of Saddle Creek's decision-making
process. He pointed to M. Ward and Tilly and the Wall as examples.
Is that slow process an issue with how the label operates?
Kulbel: M. Ward needed a label and we talked about it amongst
ourselves for a couple months. It took longer than reasonable for
Matt to hear back from us. I would have said no if I were Matt,
too. It's just a superslow process of everyone getting comfortable
with releasing something new.
Nansel: Prior to Team Love, Conor brought dozens of records
through that he thought were great. We didn't have the manpower
to release all of them whether we liked them or not. It was suggested
that if he wanted to put out all these records, he should have a
Kulbel: The five or six records he's putting out are the
same ones that he would have brought to Saddle Creek.
Oberst said Team Love is "in the family." What is
Creek's relationship with Team Love exactly?
Nansel: They pay their manufacturing bills. We keep an eye
on the inventory. It's the same set up that Merge has with Touch
and Go. It's not a significant amount of money from a financial
standpoint, but I think when we agreed to do this with Conor, we
felt we were opening up the floodgates to have this be a part of
our business. Team Love wouldn't be the only label we would sub-distribute.
We could see taking on other labels.
Kulbel: At the end of the day, Team Love records are something
that's part of our distribution. Anything Team Love puts out, we
distribute, so our distributor (ADA) has to as well.
Operationally, how has the company changed? Before, it was just
Robb and Jason, and a few others pitching in. How many people work
for Creek and what do they do?
Kulbel: We have seven full timers. Mike Brown does accounting,
Jadon Ulrich does graphics, Matt Maginn does retail stuff, Christina
Harding handles international, Jeff Tafolla handles online orders
and distributors that we take care of in-house, and Robb and I do
Did you ever think you'd have to deal with personnel and HR
issues when you started this up?
Nansel: We never thought of that. Mike is now looking into
401K stuff for everyone. We even provide health insurance.
Were you surprised at the amount of press Bright Eyes received
for these two releases?
Kulbel: January is a good time to release a record. People
are looking to write about 'the new thing,' especially with the
big names not releasing CDs until March and April. But the stories
would have been written anyway. It's Bright Eyes, two records, there
were so many variables. But it still seemed like a ton of press
to me. It's Radiohead-level press. The only thing we didn't get
was a really big cover, Spin or Rolling Stone.
Were you caught off guard by first-week sales? I heard that
some Best Buy stores ran out of CDs on the first day.
Nansel: We never ran out of CDs, but there was a 48-hour
delay in getting some stock to some of the bigger accounts. We didn't
expect them to ship as many as they did. On the day the CDs came
out, later that day, there was a huge mass of reorders from Best
Buy and other big accounts because they had sold through their stock.
They wiped us out of everything that week. We had stuff in the pipeline
that came through. None of the actual stores suffered; some of the
middle warehousing systems were caught off guard for a day.
Kulbel: Matt (Maginn) said ADA (Saddle Creek's distributor)
was physically out of stock for six hours until a shipment came
in later that day. Best Buy never ran out here. I never heard of
anyone not being able to buy one.
Nansel: I did, but the CD was back in stock the next day.
Best Buy was overnighting stores. I don't know how accurate those
reports were. We were surprised at Best Buy's price of $7.99. I
thought it would be $8.99. That's cheap.
How do you keep the momentum going for the records?
Nansel: You don't sustain at the level that it's at right
now. Sales will dip over the next few weeks and hopefully level
off until the next tour. The only thing that would get it back up
would be commercial airplay, and we've already exceeded what we
thought we'd sell without radio.
Would you consider courting radio?
Nansel: Ultimately, it's whatever Conor wants to do. If
he wants to focus his efforts at radio, he has to play at their
weenie roast parties. If you don't play their games, they don't
play your record. It would be great if they broke from traditional
methods and played it just because they like it.
What are the biggest challenges in dealing with a potential
gold-record level release?
Kulbel: It's changed a few of our thought processes. We
have to play with the big boys more, which is annoying. This is
the first time we did retail programs with Best Buy and Target.
These things cost insane amounts of money.
Nansel: You have to meet the demand, I guess. The artist
is choosing to do the Vote for Change tour and playing larger rooms.
From a retail perspective you have to go on a similar path. You
can't play in 20,000-seat arenas with Bruce Springsteen and not
have CDs at Best Buy. It would be a lost opportunity.
Speaking of Conor's touring, did you have any fallout from his
recent comments about Texas? (In Fort Worth recently, Oberst
reportedly told a sold-out audience, "I don't know if you know
this, but I hate your (expletive) state. I'd put a (expletive) gun
to my head before I'd live in your state.")
Kulbel: I got 10 hate e-mails which said I won't listen
to anything from Conor or your label again. A guy sent us a copy
of the article and a letter full of expletives, and a copy of Wide
Awake in a ziplock baggie that he pulverized. It was in a thousand
pieces. He must have hit it 100 times. There was nothing left of
We don't think it's funny. Conor always says what he thinks at
shows. I'm anxious to hear what he actually said. We'll find out
because we have tapes of all the shows.
Nansel: I know there are other things he said after that.
He talked about his favorite people from Texas. That stuff never
makes it into the story. It's never great to alienate your fans
and piss them off.